Despite Mexico's domination of CONCACAF following South Africa, the USMNT rebounded under the guidance of Jurgen Klinsmann to set the pace in the Hex and in the region, nabbing its seventh consecutive World Cup appearance.
As Brazil 2014 approaches, the US and Klinsmann will be busy locking in a roster that still have plenty of fringe yet to be trimmed, with the hope being that a blend of MLS- and European-based players can help turn the regional power into a consistent international player. Positive results in high-profile friendlies provide hope, and the knockout stage is the expectation for what is still a developing soccer nation.
GROUP G SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Jozy Altidore, F, Sunderland (pictured left): The striker flipped a switch mid-year for the US, which coincided with the strong run of form that catapulted the Americans from a just another Hexagonal hopeful to their normal place at the head of the CONCACAF table. He has still yet to find his form on the club side, but his confidence is rising and Klinsmann is certain his form will turn.
Michael Bradley, M, Toronto FC: An unsung hero in the center of the field for the US, Bradley is a calming presence in the defensive third, and has a knack for popping up in dangerous positions as well. He carved out a place with Serie A club AS Roma before moving to TFC in a blockbuster transfer over the winter, and certainly won't take anything for granted with the Nats.
Tim Howard, GK, Everton: Even with the strong play of backup ‘keeper Brad Guzan threatening his starting role, Howard has come up big when the US needed it most. Same old same old with Everton as well during a fast start in the EPL, and the the veteran even tried his hand at broadcasting in his spare time. Plus, he scores goals (video right).
Jurgen Klinsmann (right) has gone from German scoring machine during his playing career to helping transform the US on the international stage since being hired in July 2011. It was a slow beginning, though, as the US struggled to close out 2011 under Klinsmann’s guidance.
Encouragingly, 2012 was better for the Americans, and the team had its best-ever winning percentage in a calendar year under the tutelage of the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager. That success continued in 2013, with the US running off 12 consecutive wins and claiming 15 victories in 16 matches following rumors of a rift in the squad.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Hexagonal record: 7-2-1, 22pts / 15 GF, 8 GA (first place in CONCACAF Hexagonal)
The US took care of business at home, going 5-0-0 against their opponents in the Hex, outscoring them by a combined score of 8-0. A draw at Estadio Azteca in March set the Americans off in the right direction in their road fixtures after a loss to open the Hex at Honduras. Wins in Jamaica and Panama propelled them to the top spot in CONCACAF, and sealed a World Cup berth before they took the field for their final two matches.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The US will be making their 10th World Cup appearance in 2014, and seventh consecutive. Since 1990, they have alternated being eliminated in the group phase and making it into the knockout phase, with their best finish (in the modern era) coming in 2002 at South Korea/Japan, when they topped archrival Mexico in the round of 16 to make it to the quarterfinals. If the trend continues, the US might be looking at an early exit in Brazil. Then again, the pattern has to break sometime.
Klinsmann has made a concerted effort to feature MLS talent on his roster. In the US' recent international friendlies, Sean Johnson (Chicago), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Brad Evans (Seattle) and Eddie Johnson (D.C.) were all part of the Stars and Stripes. In World Cup qualifying, the US included MLSers Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando (RSL), Landon Donovan (LA), Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Graham Zusi and Matt Besler (Sporting KC). Many others, including Howard, Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan, got their start on home soil.